If you live in Canada, or another country that subsidizes the arts, you are in a good place.
Despite having access to these resources, many people choose not to apply to grants and exploit them for their own benefit. Chalk it up to laziness, disorganization or perhaps lack of confidence in being able to secure funding for their projects.
As people make their first (and usually only attempt) to apply to a grant, some create bullshit reasons as to why their project didn’t get funded when they are rejected.
This is normal behavior – but the problem is sometimes these people are sharing their incorrect opinion with hopeful grant applicants. This can deter someone from applying altogether, and hold people back in their careers if one is not careful with what they say.
I wanted to outline some of these reasons, or myths as I call them. My real hope is to encourage you to apply to grants, not accept the excuses from others who fell short, and teach you how to win a grant of your own.
As a disclaimer, I believed each of these at one point or another in my career, until I sought out the truth.
Let’s explore these myths together.
Myth #1: Grant organizations only fund their friends
Grants cannot only fund their friends – in fact, it’s hard to even do so because of the way grants are reviewed and approved.
Most grant organizations operate with a jury system. This is a group of people from varying backgrounds and disciplines that review and grade all hopeful grant applications.
Individual jurors do not decide which applications get funded. Instead, each application is graded multiple times by multiple jurors and given an average score. This is very reminiscent of grading a homework assignment from our high school days.
Based on how much funding is available for that deadline, the top percentile of grants will be funded. One deadline may fund grants that achieve an 85% or higher, while the next deadline may only be funding programs with a 93% or higher. If you fall short of this score, your project wont be funded.
Therefore, in order for an organization to fund their friends, that artist must be friends with the many jurors who are reviewing their application. The likelihood of that is still possible – but much less likely, as applicants don’t know who their exact jurors will be.
Furthermore, most grant organizations have a policy where a juror cannot grade the application of someone they know, as it will be a conflict of interest. This helps avoid bias, and leads to a fairer assessment of all applications.
Myth #2: Grants fund specific artists only.
“Grants don’t want to fund hip hop”
“Grants only like folk music”
“Grants only want to fund French music”
These are some gripes and quotables I’ve encountered along my grant writing journey, and I’ve realized that they’re all incorrect.
First, there is a major distinction here – grants don’t fund artists or individuals, they fund projects. A project can range from recording and producing an album, to shooting a music video, to releasing and marketing a single, or a combination of them all.
Artists can’t just apply for grant funding saying they need $10,000 and get it based solely on clout or because they make a certain style of music.
Instead, the artist must have a specific project and goal in mind, and must clearly communicate how the funding will help them accomplish that goal. This means outlining a plan that covers what the money is for, how it will be used, and why their project is more viable than another artists’.
Grant organizations look at this project and evaluate the likelihood of the artist completing it, as well as potential impact this project may have on the community it’s coming from. The artist’s track record will be evaluated during the application process as well. An artist applying for a type of project they’ve never completed in the past is less likely to win a grant.
If you don’t clearly communicate the above, then your application may get passed up on. Many will say its favouritism – “they like folk music more than rap” – but the truth is, maybe your plan (or your music) stank.
This is because the jury system allows jurors to select the styles of music they want to review. So if you make hip hop, a juror who likes and wants to review hip hop applications will be reviewing yours. This helps remove the bias of a negative review from a juror who doesn’t like or listen to hip hop at all.
If an application is successful, this will result in the artist getting funded, technically yes. But the focus is funding specific projects. Grant organizations don’t look at the artist or genre alone when it comes to giving away funding. The plan and the music itself are the most important components.
Myth #3: Grants can be used to buy equipment and set-up a studio.
Most new producers and artists get excited thinking about grants and how they can use the funding to buy the newest gadget or software they need to make music and build out their studio.
Unfortunately, most grants won’t allow you to spend the funding on buying equipment.
The funding is meant to complete a project while stimulating the local economy. Buying a piece of equipment made in China may prevent you from ever booking local studio time again, and not paying a local studio owner hurts the economy more than it helps it.
Ironically – you can take the funding and rent a piece of equipment for the duration of your project, whether it’s a high-end microphone or synth. You can also take the funding and rent a studio space with it (which is what I do with my private studio space). The key here is to rent items, rather than purchase them outright.
Some examples of acceptable ways to spend your grant funding:
- Marketing your project to the masses so it gets heard
- Paying professional service providers like producers and engineers
- Renting a studio space and/or booking professional studio time
- Paying to create visual content to support the release of your project
- And more…
Myth #4: I need to use a grant writer to get a grant.
False. You do not need a grant writer to get a grant – you just need to understand the application process and how to formulate a winning grant proposal.
Some grant organizations actually frown upon the use of a grant writer, as they don’t want their funding to be spent on paying someone to write and complete your application. They would rather see that money re-invested into the Canadian music industry and professional service providers within it.
I’ve never applied to a grant using a grant writer. I’ve applied to all of my grants completely on my own, with no help from anyone. While I didn’t win every time, I was successful on certain applications and received my funding. The times where I wasn’t successful – I learned a lot.
Grant writers do not guarantee you will be awarded a grant. They are up against the same odds as you would be if you applied on your own. Competition can be fierce between applications, and the application itself is only one component; the quality of the demo music can greatly influence the results of a grant also.
Grant writers can make the process easier due to their familiarity with applying, and they will handle all of the logistics of formulating and submitting the application. This may be enticing if you aren’t a strong writer, or don’t care to learn about the grant process.
However, a grant writer comes with a fee – and that fee has to be paid regardless of if your application is successful or not.
Myth #5: A grant organization won’t fund my project because I’m not from the same country.
I can’t speak on every grant organization, but many actually can give funding away to artists that aren’t from the same country. But how?
In Canada, grant organizations exclusively fund projects that are Canadian content, or CANCON for short.
CANCON has 4 criteria, known as the MAPL criteria:
M – Music is entirely composed by a Canadian
A – The performing artist on the song is a Canadian
P – The music consists of a performance that was recorded in Canada
L – The lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian
In order for something to be considered CANCON, it must be at least 50% of the above criteria.
For example, a song can be produced and recorded in Canada (M & P criteria) but have an American artist on it performing his or her own lyrics (A & L criteria).
Therefore, technically speaking, an American (or other national) can apply for a Canadian music grant, so long as they use that money in the local Canadian economy, and as long as their music checks off 2 out of the 4 MAPL criteria.
These are 5 myths that I personally believed at one point or another. After applying to many grants on my own, learning first hand and having direct conversations with both jurors and grant organizations, I realize that I was misled.
Like anything, do your research and get the facts before you believe what someone else has to say. Impossible is nothing once you do it.
Learn more about music grants in Canada by reading my other articles such as Music Grants: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started